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Home - A new era for Swedish basketball?

  A new era for Swedish basketball?

November 5, 2009

Swedish basketball is on the move, and has been so for several years. Although the seniors are ranked as low as 65 (men) and 24 (women) in the world, both senior teams have had a good season and were on the brink of making it to the European top level. The aggregate ranking of Sweden´s youth national teams in Europe is 12th, a remarkable achievement considering the position five years ago was 25, and more is to come. Talents are emerging like never before, bringing hopes for the future.

Girls lead the way
The girl´s national teams have made the biggest progress in the last years. As one of only 8 nations, all Swedish girl´s teams are now playing in the European A-division. The peak performance so far is the silver medal in the U 19 World Championships, won by the girls born 1988 -1989 in the tournament played 2007 in Slovak Republic. Several of the dominant players from that team are now playing in the women´s national team and professionally in Europe; Louice Halvarsson (Spartak Moscow), Frida Eldebrink (Tarbes), Elin Eldebrink (Rivas Ecopolis) and Frida Aili (Lukoil Neftochimic). The year before, the same team won bronze in the European Championships, thus managing to bring home the nation´s first ever European tournament medal. This summer, the Swedish U 18 team was able to do likewise, defeating Czech Republic 67-54 in the bronze game in the tournament held in Södertälje, Sweden. Cleopatra Forsman-Goga (born 1991) had an outstanding performance and was selected tournament MVP. Forsman-Goga is considered one of the major talents in Swedish women´s basketball, along with Fahriya Abdi (1992), who earned MVP honors in the 2008 U 16 European Championship in Poland, when Sweden was placed 4th. Other talents with potential to reach international stardom include Amanda Zahui and Elin Gustavsson (both born 1993).

Close but disappointing
Expectations were great when the women´s senior team this summer reached the promotion round to qualify for the A-division. With players like the above mentioned, Elisabeth Egnell (Calais) and Chioma Nnamaka (TEO Vilnius), the Swedish favorites failed to reach their goal in two disappointing battles against Netherlands. It was close, but not good enough. The Dutch underdogs won at home by nine points and managed to draw in the decisive game in Norrköping, where the Swedish team clearly underperformed and were not able to keep things together in the crucial, final moments of the game. Sweden will now have to wait two more years for their next chance to qualify, and from there try to reach the ultimate goal of the national team; participation in the Olympic Games. Sweden´s coach Lars Johansson was able to keep his job despite the surprising setback. The Swedish federation has full faith in Johansson and intends to fulfill his contract, which runs for four more years.

Lots of talent
Swedish boys have not been as successful as the girls, but all teams are improving. The best achievement so far goes back to 1973, when the junior team, under American coach Mike Perry, clinched 4th place in the European Championships. The only Swedish boy´s team currently in the A-division is U 18. They qualified this summer, after beating Poland 87-71 in the final of the B-division in the tournament in Bosnia. The team is full of talent, among them 1991 born Andreas Person and Chris Czerapovicz , both of them selected for the European U 18 All Star Game played in Poland during Euro Basket 2009. Another interesting player in the team is Carl Engström (1991), 213 cm, a former top handball player, who was persuaded to turn to basketball only a few months before the championships! Several other younger players are beginning to draw attention from foreign teams and scouts. Jonathan Person (1993) is already with Virtus Bologna. Nick Spires (1994), Sebastian Schuszler (1994), William Magarity (1993) and Marcus Eriksson (1993) are among those who are invited to test for clubs in Italy and Spain.

Not there yet
Sweden´s greatest basketball star is Jonas Jerebko, the first Swede to be drafted by a NBA team. Jerebko was picked early in the second round this year and is now under contract with Detroit Pistons. Jerebko was only partly eligible for the national team this summer, when Sweden, under Greek coach Kostas Flevarakis, reached the promotion round for 2011 Euro Basket qualification. Sweden had its best campaign under the Flevarakis regime after a 7-1 record in the qualification round, but was up against a strong Montenegro team in the promotion round. Montenegro won both games, signaling to Sweden that the nation´s basketball team is not yet ready to compete with the best in Europe. In the absence of Jerebko, Sweden´s leading players were guard Mats Levin, center Joakim Kjellbom and forward Martin Ringström.

Time for a new generation
Also the men´s team will now have to wait a couple of years for an opportunity to qualify for Euro Basket, the one that is to be played 2013. It is obvious that it´s time for a new generation of players to enter the scene. Furthermore, coach Flevarakis contract has expired and the federation is now in the process of deciding who is going to lead Sweden in the coming years. A new era has to begin for Swedish basketball. Certainly, Sweden has the talents needed for the next step, but the league has to change and improve, and players are in need of more international experience.
Due to the global financial crisis, Swedish basketball teams have made room for more domestic young players. Young guns, such as Anton Gaddefors, Christopher Ryan, Andreas Person and Pierre Hampton, play important roles in their teams and should be among those who compete for a place in the national squad in the coming years.

Searching for a coach
With the growing success, the Swedish federation has increased its staff in the national program. Per Källman is responsible for the youth program, as he successfully has been for several years. Jonte Karlsson, former player and coach on team and national level, was hired this summer, and is in charge of the senior teams. It is Karlsson´s role to run the process for hiring the next national team coach. The announcement of a new coach is expected by the end of this year, but the issue of course draws great attention among basketball fans and expertise.
Kostas Flevarakis has coached the Swedish national team since 2005, is highly respected and has continuously improved the team´s standard. However, it is a general perception that the federation will go for a domestic coach, as with the women´s coach Johansson, in order to find a “Swedish model” for the national team. Furthermore, it is expected that the new coach will be a long term solution, which of course is the right thing to do. As said, several new players from the upcoming generation are knocking on the door. It will be a long and time-consuming process for the new coach to find the right squad and balance in the team that will take Swedish men´s basketball to the next level. Despite all speculation, the federation insists on keeping all doors open by evaluating the season, communicating with clubs etc. before determining the coach´s profile. After that, they will start looking for candidates. If the federation goes for a Swede in the role, Torbjörn Gehrke, former national team player and coach in Södertälje, where he won the national title in 2005, is one of the favorites. Gehrke´s contract with Södertälje expires after this season. He has been in the role of assistant coach to Flevarakis and has further coaching ambitions. Another experienced coach, willing to take on the national team, is Charles Barton, who had a long career as player and coach in Sweden, including several years, 1983-1991, with the national team.
Barton has coached abroad for several years, in clubs like Maccabi, Aris and the Danish national team. Who will be chosen remains to be seen. All stakeholders want to be heard in the process. One aspect is that it is well known that the players in the national team prefer their present coach.  It might be that the choice for a new Swedish coach after Flevarakis is actually Kostas Flevarakis.

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